Fall 2019 Lecture Series

Is Democracy Dying?

This is a lecture series presented by Third Age Learning Lakehead (TALL), a partnership between the Office of Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning and the Third Age Network.

Date: September 18 to October 16, 2019

Time: 9:30 - 11:30 a.m.

Location: St. Paul's Centre, 62 Peter St. N. Orillia

Wednesday, September 18


“Why do Democracies Fail? Lessons from Interwar Germany”


Drawing on the history of Germany’s transition from democratic republic to fascist dictatorship, this lecture will explore democracy’s inherent fragility. Only thirteen years after the founding of the liberal, progressive, forward-looking Weimar Republic, over half of German voters cast their ballots for non-democratic parties. How do we explain why people would willingly eliminate the system that protected their civil rights and political freedoms? And what does that history mean for us today?


Women with dark hair smiling


Dr. Valerie Hébert is Associate Professor of History and Interdisciplinary Studies at Lakehead University in Orillia. She teaches the history of modern Europe, Nazi Germany, Genocide, and on the photography of human rights violations and international conflict. She has published on the Nuremberg Trials, Rwanda’s Gacaca Tribunals, the evolution of human rights law, and she is currently preparing a book on Holocaust photographs.

Wednesday, September 25


“Can we make good political decisions?” 


Good political decisions are hard to make. Just like a fastball is hard to hit. We can do it. But it takes work. And practice. This talk discusses why we make bad political decisions, assessing the role of individual psychological processes and social, political, and economic structures in our thinking and reasoning. Why are good political decisions important? And how can we make better political decisions by drawing on and amending the processes and structures that shape and direct our lives?

A man with sandy hair and glasses


Dr. David Moscrop is a political theorist, a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Communication at the University of Ottawa, and a columnist for the Washington Post. He also writes from time to time for Maclean's Magazine, the Globe and Mail, and other publications. He is a frequent commentator for television, radio, and print. His first book Too Dumb for Democracy? Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones is on bookshelves now.

Wednesday, October 2


Teardown: Imagining a new democracy”


Our democracy is a train wreck. Our elections feel hollow, our legislatures toxic. Fierce partisanship, centralized power and distorted election results all contribute to our growing cynicism. Environmental crisis looms on the horizon and economic inequity continues to grow.  But the future of our species doesn’t need to look like an inevitable disaster. We’re capable of so much more. This talk offers a collection of solutions aimed at transforming our democracy into something that feels meaningful, inviting, thoughtful and authentic.

A man in a room with apothecary bottles


Dave Meslin is an activist, organizer and author. His TED talk about apathy has more than 1.7 million views and his video clip from the 2016 Canadian election coverage, using stacks of Lego bricks, has over 2.5 million views on Facebook. Dave’s work inspires us to invert the traditional pyramid of hierarchy by creating meaningful opportunities of engagement. His best-selling book, Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up, is a roadmap for change and a cure for cynicism.

Wednesday, October 9


The Struggle for Canadian Democracy: The Politics of Voting System Reform Today”


There is a very real and serious struggle going on today in Canada to either further or limit our democracy. The efforts to change our voting system over the past two decades offer a window into this struggle, helping us to identify who is on what side and what they are trying to accomplish. By reviewing these efforts to change the voting system provincially in BC, Ontario, PEI, and Quebec, as well as at the federal level, we can better understand what the current struggle is all about, how to effectively engage with it, and how to assess why the voting system itself has become a key battleground.

A man speaking to a large group


Dr. Dennis Pilon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at York University. He is Canada’s leading expert on the issue of voting system reform and the author of two books on the topic, The Politics of Voting: Reforming Canada’s Electoral Systems (2007) and Wrestling with Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the Twentieth Century West (2013), as well as 15 book chapters and academic journal articles. 

Wednesday, October 16


“The Alt-Right’s Threat to Democracy (and What We Can Do to Counter it)”


In just one month after Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential win, there were more than 1,000 hate crime incidents in North America. In 2018, right wing extremists linked to the “alt-right” killed at least 40 people. This talk considers how democracy is threatened by the rise of the “alt-right,” and probes how the Internet and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may be used to both empower and challenge this hate group’s influence. What is the alt-right and what can we do to secure ourselves against and counter the alt-right’s threat to democracy?


A man with dark hair smiling at the camera


Dr. Tanner Mirrlees is an Associate Professor in the Communication and Digital Media Studies program at Ontario Tech University, the vice president of the Canadian Communication Association (CCA), and a steering committee member for The Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism. He is the author of EdTech Inc.: Selling, Automating, and Globalizing Higher Education in the Digital Age (2019), Hearts and Mines: The US Empire’s Culture Industry (2016), and Global Entertainment Media: Between Cultural Imperialism and Cultural Globalization (2013).